New York City is one of the culinary capitals of the world. With all of that competition and talent in one city, it makes longevity and continued excellence that much more impressive. Gramercy Tavern has been a bastion of culinary excellence in the city since the early 2000’s and has the recognitions and awards that come with it (multiple James Beard Awards across multiple categories, and it has been a One Star Michelin Rated restaurant since 2005). I had to try it.
It can be difficult to make a reservation at a Michelin Rated restaurant (which, in the US, only means some restaurants in NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington D.C.), but there are a few tricks that I like to use to dine in Michelin Rated restaurants without a reservation and often for less money:
- Make a lunch reservation – Many 1 Star and even some 2 Star restaurants offer lunch, which a lot of the time has similar or even the exact same food as what they serve for dinner; made by the same chefs, but smaller portions for less money (Currently at Gramercy Tavern, the Lunch Tasting Menu – 5 courses, $85; the Dinner Tasting Menu – 6 courses, $165. Case. In. Point). Many people don’t have time for a nice, long lunch (especially during the work week) so reservations are usually pretty easy to come by. And if you’re traveling or visiting, switch it up and splurge on lunch instead of dinner.
- Sit at the bar – The bar is great, especially if you’re eating or traveling alone. You’ve got a built in conversational guest in the bartender, you never need a reservation (first come, first served always and forever!), and they serve the same food as in the dining room (worst case scenario, it’s and abbreviated or amended version of the menu, which, I mean, whatever). Easy, quick, cheap.
- Check to see if the Chef, or owner, or restaurant group has another restaurant – I know this is kind of cheating because it’s not the exact same restaurant, but it still comes from the same people, so it’s close enough for me. Usually, you’ll see this with 3 Star restaurants that realize that not everyone who wants to try their food can afford a 15 course tasting menu for $395, so they open a sister restaurant that’s more casual, accessible, and a la carte. Perfect.
For my meal at Gramercy Tavern, I employed tips 1 and 2 and sat at the bar for lunch with a friend. We were seated right away without a reservation. It works!!
I didn’t get to see much of the dining room, but the tavern portion of Gramercy Tavern was not quite what I was expecting. Usually fine dining restaurants conjure up visions of white table cloths, confusing table settings, fancy waiters, and modern or classic art and architecture; but Gramercy Tavern was comfortable, colorful, and dare I say, casual (it’s not that casual, definitely don’t show up in a t-shirt and jeans)! They even have a very cool open grill and expo station for the kitchen where you could watch all of the food get plated, arranged, and sent out to their respective tables. It’s fascinating to watch, but unfortunately I was seated at the bar, facing the other direction (but also fortunately because I wouldn’t have paid attention to my own food or anything else for that matter).
This was likely to be the nicest meal that I would have on my trip to New York City, so I splurged a bit and ordered the Grilled Lamb with garlic butter and market greens as my entree. My friend ordered the Black Bass with poached lobster, mushrooms, and celery root puree. Finding a friend who doesn’t mind dropping some cash with you for a great meal is a special friend that you should tightly hold onto. Especially when they can convince you to forget about the price and order whatever it is you have your eye on because and doggonit people like you! Shoutout to foodie friends!
My Grilled Lamb was cooked to a perfect medium rare, charred on the grill, sliced and arranged atop a grilled crostini (surprise, not in the description), topped with lightly fried, smoky, bacon (surprise #2. Surprise bacon may be the best bacon) and finished with what tasted like a citrus BBQ sauce (SURPRISE #3). The market greens were simply and lightly dressed with olive oil and salt. The salad was bitter from the greens themselves, but provided a good contrast to the rich and fatty flavors from the lamb and bacon. I, personally, think that the salad, and the dish overall, would have benefitted from the addition of some sort of acid to help cut through all those meaty flavors and to add some brightness to the dish; but I’m not a chef in a One Star Michelin restaurant, so what do I know??
My friend enjoyed the Black Bass so much that he only allowed me a single bite to try it. That’s not to say that he’s a stingy friend, it’s just that by the time I looked up and was ready to try a piece it was nearly gone – it was that good. The fish was buttery and flaky, the lobster was succulent claw meat, the celery root puree was smooth and creamy, but the mushrooms were the standout of the dish. It was all really, really good and worked together to create a fantastic plate of food.
My friend and I came to the consensus that he had the better dish of the meal. Not that mine was bad or disappointing at all, but it’s like when you find a great parking spot, but your friend gets the parking spot right next to wherever it is that you’re going. Like, you’re not upset because you got a great parking spot, but your friend definitely got the better spot. This was like that.
If you’ve never been to a Michelin Rated or a James Beard Award Winning restaurant, Gramercy Tavern is a great gateway into the world of fine dining. You’ll get a great idea of the quality of food, attention to detail, and everything else that it takes to be among the best restaurants in the country. At the same time, Gramercy Tavern somehow remains relatively inexpensive, casual, and accommodating.
If you’re well versed in the world of award winning fine dining restaurants, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re looking for a bit more in your fine dining lunch adventures, I would recommend making a reservation for the dining room and trying the tasting menu, which I mentioned above, but it bears repeating is ONLY $85! Man, I definitely should have done that.
Maybe next time. . . Definitely next time.